Kagame's Rwanda election win may bring Singapore-style authoritarian rule
Rwanda election winner Paul Kagame has expressed doubts about the wisdom of importing democracy, favoring a government similar to Singapore, where authoritarian rule oversaw steep economic growth.
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Rwanda is not China or Singapore
Kagame's party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), largely protects most of these essential ingredients (although they also maintain a strong hand in the economy, in which the the RPF has significant involvement through holding companies). But let's not get carried out: The Asian Tigers all had vibrant industrial sectors built before and during WWII, drawing on cheap educated labor, cheap primary resources (cotton, steel, sisal and oil), and steep levels of foreign direct investment in manufacturing.Skip to next paragraph
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The real criticism, however, is a political one: The RPF is a very hierarchical regime with few checks and balances. This is not China, where the communist party has internal mechanisms for debate, promotion and sanctioning of abusive officials; it is also not Singapore, where a strong entrepreneurial sector has kept the pressure on the regime to maintain FDI and trade; this is not Korea, where there is a thousand year-old tradition of a strong, independent bureaucracy, and where the US invested billions after the Korean war in FDI and aid.
Reexamining Kagame's practices
With all the raving about the RPF's forward-looking economic reforms, let us not forget that Rwanda is a chiefly agricultural country. Korea and Taiwan developed through export-led-growth and industrialization. By contrast, the RPF's vision is to grow through a service-based country, this is why they are wiring the country with fiber-optic cables and investing heavily in ICT training institute. But service industry usually serves the business sector, which is still very weak. The country is landlocked – the biggest investment possibilities are in methane gas in Lake Kivu, in coffee and tea, and in the mineral sector in the eastern Congo.
The real question is therefore not whether Rwanda can benefit from growth like Singapore – maybe it can. But let's ask instead: Can the RPF maintain its "enlightened authoritarianism" despite the divisions within its own ranks? Has Kagame's leadership style resulted in divisions that are so deep that they threaten the stability of the government? Again, I would recommend that donors take a better look inside the black box of internal RPF politics before jumping to conclusions about the country's future.
“Liberalized authoritarianism…. is an unstable form of regime. Its political openings are easily and summarily shut as strongmen place ever heavier reliance on a shrinking circle of military loyalists. In the worst-case scenarios, blocked or precluded transitions lead to an intensification of political conflict, to anarchy (a regime without rules of any kind), and to the implosion of the authority of the state.”